For decades the U.S. Forest Service and BLM has been seeking out and cutting large dead trees in Federal forests to prevent areas from being listed as critical habitat for endangered species. This may be an intentional civil and criminal violation of the Endangered Species Act. [Photos]
Listing Critical Habitat Compels Agencies To Not Destroy That Habitat
When a species is proposed for listing as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) must consider whether there are areas of habitat believed to be essential to the species’ conservation: spotted owl, marten, fisher, grey whale, etc. Those areas may be proposed for designation as critical habitat. A designation requires Federal agencies to ensure that actions they plan to undertake, fund, or authorize do not destroy or adversely modify that habitat. Even private or other landowners must amend their projects to proceed without adversely modifying the critical habitat.[!]
Federal Agency Staff, And Contractors Are Complicit
It is an intentional act to seek out and cut large diameter dead trees to prevent them from becoming spotted owl and other endanger species habitat. Annual census of known spotted owl trees are conducted. Owls must be seen living in the trees. If the owls are scared off by nearby clear-cutting, road building, or the tree is downed, the habitat is delisted as critical and may now be clear-cut. If there are no potential habitat trees, owls are prevented from moving into an area.
This is an intentional act. Cutting large diameter dead trees is being conducted on gated locked Forest Service and BLM lands. Only staff and contractors can access these areas with vehicles. Not during clear-cuts, the trees are found, cut and left. Small diameter non-habitat trees are skipped.
I live in Oregon where more than half of the 11,000 Endangered Spotted Owls live. We have one mile of road for every square mile of Federal land. Staff comb these areas to cut large snags. Above are just a few of the snags cut in Southern Oregon. Fuel reduction crews target large snags. I don’t trail run with a camera, so there are many more I have seen not shown here.
In Canada in 2020, the Provence of British Columbia approved 312 new logging clearcuts in habitat of endangered spotted owls. The province refuses to produce a habitat plan for spotted owls that it promised 14 years ago, and a costly program to release captive-bred owls into the wild has come to naught.[@]
Habitat And Denning, Habitat Fragmentation Science
Here is a bit about the science of spotted owl, marten and fisher habitat. Spotted owls do not build their own nests, instead making use of cavities found in trees, deadwood, and snags, and the sites of abandoned raptor or squirrel nests.[$] Fishers are more likely to be found in old-growth forests. Since female fishers require moderately large trees for denning, forests that have been heavily logged and have extensive second growth appear to be unsuitable for their needs.[%] American marten females use a variety of structures for natal and maternal denning, including the branches, cavities or broken tops of live trees, snags, stumps, logs, woody debris piles, rock piles, and red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) nests or middens.[^]
The common thread is that these and many other species rely on unlogged, old-growth, diverse, canopied forests. Species also go extinct when they are reduced to small blocks disconnected from the larger ecosystem. Herbaceous plants like Trillium, will continue to grow in an uncut old-growth block, but will not reproduce. They become extinct in the fragmented ecosystem once last remaining plant die. The whole system is connected. If plants disappear, dependent animals, and fungi do as well.[&] In ecology, extinction debt is the future extinction of species due to events in the past.[*]
These May Be Civil And Criminal Acts
Because it is Agency policy to eliminate endangered species habitat on gated Federal land, these acts are intentional. The net affect increased strangulation of critical habitat is the reduction of endangered species populations by 80 percent over the next 30 years.[#] Therefore, these acts are a violation of the Endanger Species Act. Prohibited Acts. Section 9. (a) General. (2)(B) and other provisions. For example:
…It is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to … (B) remove and reduce to possession any such species from areas under Federal jurisdiction; maliciously damage or destroy any such species on any such area; or remove, cut, dig up, or damage or destroy any such species on any other area in knowing violation of any law or regulation of any State or in the course of any violation of a State criminal trespass law.
These intentional acts are in violation of the Purpose of the Endangered Species Act. Section 2. (b) Purpose: The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species…
Therefore U.S. Forest Service staff, BLM staff, and related private contractors are subject to both civil and criminal penalties. Section 11. (a) Civil Penalties: section 9 of this Act, may be assessed a civil penalty by the Secretary of not more than $ 25,000 for each violation. (b) Criminal Violations. (1) Any person who knowingly violates any provision of any other regulation issued under this Act shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
Build The Case To Prosecute Corrupt Public Officials and Contractors
Remember, The U.S. Forest Service, the BLM, and the Canadian Forest Service are largely public arms of private industry. They job is to dole out as much resources as private industry demands with as little regulation as possible. Federal Agencies are largely blind to conversation of old-growth forests, endangered species, and wild fisheries unless their feet are held to the fire by the law, and we the people.
Forestry officials will explain selectively cutting a few large dead trees as fire prevention. This is a ridicules statement since they leave the rest of the tree-farmed, mono-aged, over-densely-planted, not-really-a-forest as the real fire hazard.
The outrage is that cutting large dead trees is for the sole purpose of depriving animal habitat.It takes an old-growth redwood 500 years to decompose. Cutting large snags deprives animals of at least a century of habitat.
Consider carrying your phone when traveling on public lands. Photo and video document destruction of endangered species habitat. Do not unlawfully trespass on private land or on closed public lands. The Endangered Species Act does offer rewards for conviction of violators.
(d) Rewards And Certain Incidental Expenses. The Secretary or the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay, from sums received as penalties, fines, or forfeitures of property for any violation of this Act or any regulation issued hereunder (1) a reward to any person who furnishes information which leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property for any violation of this Act or any regulation issued hereunder…
(e) Enforcement. The provisions of this Act and any regulations or permits issued pursuant thereto shall be enforced by the Secretary, the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Secretary of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating, or all such Secretaries. Each such Secretary may utilize by agreement, with or without reimbursement, the personnel, services, and facilities of any other Federal agency or any State agency for purposes of enforcing this Act. This is a length section of the act.
Remember too, it is our responsibility as citizens to reduce demand for natural resources, by reducing our consumption and even our family sizes.
For more information, read the Endanger Species Act.
Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with administering the Endangered Species Act here.
Get Involved Locally Now!
Your local conservation, and environmental watchdog nonprofits need your help: volunteer, serve on the board, or outreach. As a group, your voice will more likely be heard. Keeping environmental law attorneys and lobbyists on staff is expensive. Help grow the organization.
Work on political campaigns for conservation-friendly candidates. The best thing one can do is to run for political office ourself to make the change we seek. Remaining old-growth and adjacent forests must be protected. Dams must come down and fish hatcheries closed. We have a lot of work to do to protect the species that have no voice.
In Washington state, see the Northern Spotted Owl Conversation. In Oregon, see the Oregon Conservation Strategy, and KS Wild. In California, see the Sierra Club. In Canada, see My Sea To Sky, Boreal Conservation. Subscribe to High Country News, and The Narwhal. Find your local nonprofits at Patagonia ActionWorks.
One More Thing: The Memory of Large Trees Is Being Erased
Fuel reduction crews on public lands are burning old-growth tree stumps. Cuttings from small diameter thinning are stacked on top of large tree stumps, then burned during the wet season.
This is an intentional act. Fuel reduction crews are supervised by managers in direct contact with Forest Service staff. Forest Service staff review areas after fuel reduction work is completed. It is additional work to put out a fire of an old growth tree stump’s roots in the ground.
[Image] Michael Nichols, Getty Images, National Geographic Creative.
[!] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Endanger Species. Listing and Critical Habitat | Critical Habitat.
[@] The Narwhal. News. Sara Cox. June 1, 2020. B.C. approves 312 new logging clearcuts in habitat of endangered spotted owls.
[#] Wikipedia. Northern spotted owl.
[$] Wikipedia. Spotted owl, Habitat.
[%] Wikipedia. Fisher, Habitat.
[^] Wikipedia. American marten, Habitat.
[&] Wikipedia. Habitat fragmentation.
[*] Wikipedia. Extinction debt.
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Chuck Burr is author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution. Revised Fourth Edition. 10th Anniversary.